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  4. Hayden by Amaud Jamaul Johnson

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What did I know, what did I know
Of gazing silences and terrored stone

Brilliances; beauty of what’s hardbitten
The auroral darkness which is God

Then you arrived, meditative, ironic
My head gripped in bony vice

Mouth of agony shaping a cry it cannot utter
What did I know, what did I know

Of a changing permanence
The stains and dirty tools of struggle

Weaving a wish and a weariness together
Years before your time. Years and years

I gaze through layered light
Within the rock of the undiscovered suns

I see, I walk with you among
The landscape lush, metallic, flayed

Behind us, beyond us now
The very sunlight here seems flammable

Amaud Jamaul Johnson, “Hayden” from Red Summer. Copyright © 2006 by Amaud Jamaul Johnson. Reprinted by permission of Tupelo Press.
Source: Red Summer (Tupelo Press, 2006)
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  • Born and raised in Compton, California, poet Amaud Jamaul Johnson was educated at Howard University and Cornell. His debut collection, Red Summer (2006), examines the infamous race riots of 1919, during which nearly a hundred African American men in cities across the country were lynched. The book won the 2004 Dorset Prize from Tupelo Press. Selecting the volume, judge Carl Phillips noted that “Johnson’s poems remind us that the human record is at last a mixed one: violence, shame, betrayal, and fear, but also joy, courage, love and, yes, hope. Red Summer gives us the stirring debut of a restorative new American voice.”
    Influenced by Amiri Baraka, Audre Lorde, and Robert Hayden, Johnson’s poems combine narrative and lyric to explore the roots of violence and desire. In conversation with poet Douglas Kearney for the Boxcar Poetry Review, Johnson discussed the connection between his poetry and his prior work...

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